in IndonesiaComments Off on Kalimantan


From Bali we crossed the Java Sea to the big island of Borneo and the orangutans…From our anchorage at Abat Roadstead we followed the Bali coast for a time, even several miles out it was very busy with little fishing boats and numerous unmanned rafts, we came to know them as fishing trees…

We were fortunate that it was a clear, full moon-lit night, the rafts were quite visible close up and radar picked them up surprisingly well in the distance.
We anchored a night at Raas Island, we were well out in the reef in a corally, but sheltered situation. We didn’t go ashore.
The next day as there was good breeze we had excellent sailing, it continued so rather than losing the chance of good sailing we continued on for the next 2 nights bypassing a possible anchorage at Bawean Island…that’s unusual for us!
We had good sailing all the way, downwind with either the genoa poled out or a spinnaker up, but we had to keep a close lookout at all times, there was a lot of traffic, from small fishing boats to large ships. Of particular concern were the many tugs towing barges, often they were unlit at night. They moved across our path so slowly and the length of the tow meant that they occupied a lot of sea-room ahead, we had to give way, butit wasn’t always easy for us know whether to go ahead or behind, we had to be ready to drop the spinnaker at short notice…

We arrived off the Kumai Bay in Southern Kalimantan early in the morning and motored about 15 nm up the river to Kumai town, that took most of the day.

This part of Borneo is very flat, the river is meandering and muddy, the visiblility much reduced by smoke from that much talked about forest burning.

Early in the morning the air is clearer, the river calm.

It is major route for traffic, busy with local ferry boats

and bigger ships from throughout Indonesia.

We went ashore and made ourselves known, also making arrangements for a river trip to see the orangutans, then took a bemo to Pangkalan Bun, a bigger town about 15km away and the nearest shops and internet facility.

Pangkalan Bun has the air of a frontier town, a shanty town on the edge of development with permanent buildings half complete, a promise of things to come?
It too is on a busy river, the Sungai Arat, although is smaller than the Kumai.

There’s a waterfront market with walkways, eateries and houses on stilts.

In spite of the rough appearances, it is a very friendly town, the people happy and helpful.

There is a good range of shops catering to basic and practical requirements; I was able to buy some long trousers with (just) enough leg length and quite respectable cotton for the equivalent of $14! (They were a stated requirement for our trip into the jungle, but still haven’t been used…)

Pankalan Bun and Kumai are the centres for the nearby Tanjung Puting National Park, a conservation area for the orangutans and where all trips to see them leave from…

…hence the apes on the roundabout on the road midway between the towns!

The river trips are by Klotok, long motorboats with cooking and sleeping facilities aboard. The following morning I left with our guide Danny

2 crewmen and 3 friends off ‘Avalon’

for an overnight trip up the Sangai Sekonyer, the river into the park.

At first the riverbank was lined with low, water dwelling palms

and then as we went further, what appears to be dense jungle, but isn’t. There is a ribbon of jungle preserved on either side of the river, but through occasional gaps it’s possible to see that on one side there are wide open areas for growing rice and oil palms and in spite of it being National Park on the other, large areas have been cleared for mining and (illegal?) logging.
Tanjung Puting is a big National Park with several different river accesses. Although this one is well policed and we saw several police posts, the others are not, the government cannot afford the cost and illegal logging continues unchecked. Hence the concern about the future of not only the orangutans but all the wildlife as the surviving areas of jungle continue to be eroded by mining and the greed for teak and other hardwoods.

The boat was driven slowly and quietly enabling us to see a bit of wildlife as we went,
there were many monkeys, especially the common Macaques, but also some Gibbons and these Proboscus Monkeys

We left the Sekonyer River up a small side-branch, the water immediately changed from being muddy to clear, but dark-brown tannin stained. there was no mining up here. We then saw a false Ghavial, (freshwater crocodile) on the bank and this sizeable snake swimming

We went as far as Camp Leakey, about as far as possible by Klotok, there were several already there.

Camp Leakey is the principal, but one of several Orangutan Research Stations in the area, started in 1971 to study the animals, but since also used to rehabilitate previous captives
and more recently as a support for the local totally wild population as their natural habitat is diminished further.
There are few truly wild orangutans left and those released from captivity never return completely to the jungle. Although free to come and go, they are all dependent to a greater or lesser extent on the support of the research stations.

There are some completly domesticated animals around the station, they prefer to stay and were there to meet us on arrival!

Some of the females are used as ‘nursing mothers’ for orphans.

and the adults look after each other’s needs

There’s a display centre with a lot of useful information on the orangutans and the history of the place, (it was also a good shelter from the heavy rain that started…)
At 3 pm the daily feeding took place at a platform about a kilometre out in the jungle.
The rangers take bananas and call the animals, -they only come if they are hungry, it depends on how much of the native jungle fruits and berries, their normal food is about. (Bananas are not part of that)

Some days no orangutans turn up for feeding, on this day there were 4 or 5.

When feeding was over we returned to the Klotok and were taken back down the river for the night, choosing a spot close by a roost of Proboscus Monkeys to keep us entertained

We spent the night there in the rain, but were comfortable under tarpaulins over the upper deck, with matresses and mosquito nets for sleeping.
we were well fed with good food, not only the main meals, but many little ‘snacks’ such as deep fried bananas or fruit would appear from the ‘cook’ in the galley below decks.There was also plenty of water and coffee
The following morning we went further down the river to another camp for a morning feeding.

Several orangutans came to be fed there too, but the star of the show was this tree breaking, lumbering old male, the local ‘king’!

After crashing his way through the trees he took to the path, we had to retreat…

While feeding was happening over the course of an hour or so we also started to notice other life on the forest floor,

such as this large, but slater-like bug…and…

the dung beetles…They are there for feeding time too, because not only do the apes eat in the trees and these busy insects are there to take immediate delivery!

Mark had chosen not to come on the overnight trip, but rather had taken the fast option, a speedboat for the day and met us at this camp.

As we left to go on downstream, he went on further up for the 3 pm feeding at Camp Leakey.

On the lower reaches of the river we visited a small village

It is one of several, but this one encourages visits from traffic to the park, they do handcrafts for sale and even have a small shop.

The work wasn’t of the highly finished standard we had seen in Bali or Lombok but was representative of these people and their resources, we bought.

The trip to the orangutans was a highlight of of our time in Indonesia.

we were delayed leaving Kumai by alternator troubles which took several days to resolve, but having to stay longer was no hardship.
We got to know the town well and found the people a friendly lot.

(We saw quite often, and especially around Kumai, women using a rice flour paste on their faces to keep the sun off, because just as white people prefer to look tanned, these with dark skins would rather appear white…)

we frequented the little cafe Indo Wartek, going there almost daily for lunch, the food was the best in town.

It was incredible what 2 or 3 young ladies could produce sitting on the floor of their cramped kitchen, with a wok, a deep frier and a pressure cooker. It was all good and different every day.

We were there for the start of Ramadan, fortunately the little cafe didn’t close for lunch although many other eating places were shut during daylight.
There are several mosques in town, but the main one

was just over on shore from our anchorage. As Ramadan approached we were woken earlier and for longer by the calls, the chanting and the singing from the loudspeaker system. It wasn’t unpleasant, but did make sleep impossible from about 4.30am!

There is a market along the main street parallel with the river

It is big and busy given the size of the town. We got to know our special ‘egg’ lady and our ‘banana’ lady…

Away from the shacks and rough buildings on the river bank there are some areas with quite nice houses, reflecting the more decorative style of the area.

(The characteristic Indonesian ‘hairclip’ gable ends are there, in a slightly different form)

There are a couple of Muslim cemeteries, it’s the way to go here.

We got to know some of the people in town quite well, we had our special ‘egg’ lady, our ‘banana’ lady at the market and the ‘regulars’ on the street.
As usual we never saw any argument or disharmony and it was hard to imagine how it could happen as they seem such a peaceable lot. We don’t get to see what goes on behind the closed doors of their homes; that may be a different matter, but as the area is Muslim and dry, there is no alcohol to act as a stimulus.
We felt absolutely safe at all times and felt we could trust those people we knew.

The downside of the town is the river. it is very muddy, filled with debris and rubbish, everything near it gets very dirty. It is tidal although freshens after a lot of rain, but even without the murk, it is unsafe for swimming because of crocodiles.
(Surprisingly however, on several occasions there were dolphins swimming atound the anchored yachts, the river couldn’t be ALL bad!)
When the time came to leave we were happy to go because we wanted clean water, and also the changing weather, it was time to get going.
We felt we could enjoy staying in the town for longer however and we had only seen a tiny bit of Kalimantan. There are a lot of other places in Borneo to go.

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